With five main fire extinguisher types – with six different classes of fire – keeping track of them all can be confusing. Evacuator Alarms hopes to remove the stress of such a crucial topic via this simple, comprehensive guide on every fire extinguisher type.
This guide details the varying fire classifications, fire extinguisher types, the extinguisher colour classification system and which situations each extinguisher is suitable (and when they are not.)
Read on to expand your fire safety knowledge. Let’s go!
Classes of Fire
As background, consider that there are six different classifications of fire – see our detailed list:
- Class A – caused by combustible materials and flammable solids such as fabric, paper and wood
- Class B – caused by flammable liquids including paint, petrol and turpentine. (NOT cooking oils)
- Class C – caused by flammable gases including butane, hydrogen and methane
- Class D – fires caused by combustible metals including aluminium, magnesium and potassium
- Class F – cooking oil fires such as chip pans
- Electrical Fires – fires originating from electrical equipment: once electrical equipment has been removed, the classification of fire will change
Be aware of each classification of fire and their differences.
Types of Fire Extinguisher – Quick Reference
Although there are five main types of fire extinguishers, consider that both water and dry powder extinguishers have several versions.
The eight types of fire extinguisher (including variants) are:
- Water Mist
- Water Spray
- Dry Powder (Standard)
- Dry Powder (Specialist)
- CO2 (Carbon Dioxide)
- Wet Chemical
As the correct choice of extinguisher depends wholly on the initial fuel source of the fire, added to the fact that there is not a universal fire extinguisher type that works to expunge all classifications of fire, you need to be alert to the risks involved in your business and which fire extinguishers to keep on the premises.
Types of Fire Extinguisher – Detailed Breakdown
As the most common type of fire extinguisher in the UK for use on Class A-type fires, most premises will require and stock a water fire extinguisher (or foam). A water extinguisher will distribute a jet of high-pressure water for fires caused by organic materials including cardboard, coal, fabrics and paper.
How it works: The water extinguisher’s purpose is to apply cooled water to the, slowing the fire’s burn rate until the flames subside and fully extinguish
Colour code label: BRIGHT RED
What to use on: Organic material including cardboard, coal, fabric and paper.
What NOT to use on: Fires caused by flammable gases, flammable liquids or electrical equipment.
Common businesses and locations: Commonly found on-location at venues including hotels, hospitals, offices and schools. Most premises will require either a water or foam extinguisher.
Where to place: Best practice is to place water extinguishers next to the exit of floors that have been identified as a fire safety risk.
Water Mist variant: A difference in nozzle means the extinguisher releases tiny water particles to suffocate a fire whilst also keeping the person using it safe by creating a water mist shield to reduce the residual effect of the heat.
Water Spray variant: A spray nozzle is equipped to cover a larger surface area to more quickly deplete the fire.
The most common fire extinguisher type in incidents of Class B-type fires.
Consider, as foam extinguishers are water-based, these types of extinguishers can be used on Class A-type fires, also.
Much like water extinguishers, the foam variety can be used to put out fires caused by organic material such as cardboard, coal and fabrics.
Foam extinguishers can also put out fires caused by flammable liquids, including paint, petrol and turpentine.
How it works: Foam extinguishers provide a two-way working method. Firstly, the foam cools the fuel that caused and continues to feed the fire. Secondly, when using a foam extinguisher on fires caused by flammable liquids, the foam will create a blockade between the flames and the fuel source – leading to an eventual dismissal of fire.
Colour code label: CREAM
What to use on: Fires caused and fueled by organic materials or flammable liquids.
What NOT to use on: Fires caused by flammable metals or electrical equipment or kitchen fires.
Common businesses and locations: Similar to those who would ordinarily stock water extinguishers, outfits such as hospitals, living apartments, offices and shops.
Where to place: At exit points where Class A or B fire safety risks have been highlighted.
Dry Powder (ABC) Extinguishers
Offering a wide range of fire extinguishing application scenarios, dry powder extinguishers – also called ABC extinguishers – can be used in fires of Class A, B or C.
Due to the effects on breathing when the dry powder is inhaled and the difficulty in cleaning the residue from ABC extinguishers, it is advisable not to use them in tight, enclosed spaces.
The main application of standard dry/ABC extinguishers is for fires caused by organic materials and flammable liquids but also fires caused by electrical equipment up to 1000 volts.
How it works: The powder is used to cover and completely smother the fire and its primary fuel source to suffocate the outbreak of necessary oxygen.
Colour code label: BLUE
What to use on: Organic materials, flammable liquids and fires involving electrical equipment up to 1000 V.
What NOT to use on: Never use this type of extinguisher on fires that involve cooking oil or electrical equipment over 1000 V.
Common businesses and locations: ABC powder fire extinguishers will most commonly be required in factories, garage forecourts, welding businesses, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) dispensing plants and buildings which contain considerably-sized boiler rooms.
Where to place: Next to the identified source of fire risk.
Specialised Dry Powder Variant: The specialised variant formula can be used to extinguish fires caused by flammable metals.
CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) Extinguishers
As the primary type of fire extinguisher used to put out electrical fires, CO2 extinguishers will commonly be found in IT departments, server rooms and areas occupied by a significant quantity of electronic devices.
As they can also be used to put out Class B-type fires, they can be used on fires fueled by flammable liquids such as paint and petrol.
How it works: By displacing the oxygen, CO2 extinguishers suffocate the fire through lack of oxygen
Colour code label: BLACK
What to use on: Fires caused by electrical equipment and flammable liquids.
What NOT to use on: Not to be used to extinguish fires caused by flammable metals, organic materials, cooking oils/fats or general kitchen fires.
Common businesses and locations: CO2 fire extinguishers should commonly be found in and around hospitals, offices, server rooms, schools, technology stores and universities.
Where to place: Next to the source of the identified fire risk and by the fire exits nearest to those identified risks.
Wet Chemical Extinguishers
Class F fires: wet chemical fire extinguishers are for fires caused by cooking oils and fats.
Though this type of fire extinguisher can be used to put out Class A fires, the recommendation is to have a water or foam extinguisher on hand to put out Class A fires and save the wet chemical extinguisher for when required.
How it works: Delivering a layer of foam to the surface of burning fat or oil, the wet chemical fire extinguisher works to prevent oxygen from being consumed by the fire, effectively starving and dismissing the fire over time.
The active ingredient within the wet chemical fire extinguisher is known as potassium and administered as a mist: this then creates a chemical reaction when the potassium collides with the fat/oil causing a lather-like coating on the surface, cooling the fire via the spray mechanism and suffocating the fire via the lather, in unison.
Colour code label: YELLOW
What to use on: Primary use is to extinguish fires caused by fats or cooking oils.
What NOT to use on: Never to be used on electrical fires or fires caused by flammable gasses, liquids or metals.
Common businesses and locations: A wet chemical fire extinguisher will often be found in commercial eateries and kitchens.
Where to place: Wet chemical extinguishers should be placed at the location of the identified fire risk.
You can also choose specialist variations of the above fire extinguishers to counter your location’s unique requirements. For example, a wheeled extinguisher allows you to cover larger distances with a higher firefighting capacity, or a P50 extinguisher provides longevity and tough damage resistance.
Legal Obligations for Businesses
Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, every commercial and communal building within the UK is legally obligated to house at least two functional and operational Class A fire extinguishers on each floor – being a water fire extinguisher (red label), foam fire extinguisher (cream label) or ABC fire extinguisher (blue) – at an absolute minimum.
All fire extinguishers are to be secured to the wall or stored within safety cabinets to prevent tampering or damage and they must be installed by a competent person and commissioned by law to demonstrate they have been approved for good use and are compliant in line with all regulations.
Evacuator Site Alarms are experts in the field of fire safety alert, prevention and intervention: if you are still a little unsure as to the suitability of fire extinguisher types and their application, or you require a specialist quote for new fire extinguishers, connected fire alarm systems or first aid & safety resources, feel free to contact us.
We hope that you’ve found our handbook on fire extinguisher types knowledgeable, informative and concise. If you have, please extend your fire safety knowledge further with our other resource guides.